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Doctors call for GMC boss’s resignation over Bawa-Garba

HCSA says GMC chief executive Charlie Massey’s position has become 'untenable'

Ingrid Torjesen

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

The Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association (HCSA) has called on General Medical Council (GMC) chief executive Charlie Massey to resign, warning that the GMC may never restore the confidence of the medical profession after the Bawa-Garba case under his leadership.

HCSA, one of only two unions recognised by NHS Employers to negotiate on behalf of hospital doctors, warned that Mr Massey’s position had become “untenable” following his actions with regards to the case of junior doctor Hadiza Bawa-Garba, who won her Court of Appeal case against the GMC in July.

Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba was convicted of gross negligence manslaughter over the death of Jack Adcock, who suffered from Down’s syndrome and a known heart condition and died at Leicester Royal Infirmary of a cardiac arrest as a result of sepsis in February 2011.

The paediatrician was initially suspended for a year by a GMC tribunal, but the GMC appealed the sanction at the High Court, claiming it did not protect the public, and she was later struck off. However, the Court of Appeal upheld the original tribunal ruling, confirming that although Dr Bawa-Garba was found to have made several mistakes in the lead up to the death, it was right to take mitigating factors, such as staff shortages, IT failures on the day and inappropriate working conditions into account, clearing Dr Bawa-Garba to return to work.

The Association has raised several specific concerns around the conduct of the GMC chief executive, including his personal decision, without reference to the GMC council, to seek to override the findings of the GMC’s own tribunal service.

Mr Massey decided to do so based on paid legal advice from Ivan Hare QC, who then himself went on to represent the regulator in the High Court and subsequent Appeal hearing, the HCSA said. In taking the decision to seek Dr Bawa-Garba's permanent erasure from the doctors' register, it appears that at no time was a second legal opinion sought by the GMC chief executive.

Dr John West, HCSA executive member, said: “This is not a conclusion we have come to lightly, particularly given the tragedy of young Jack Adcock's death and the distress his family have already gone through, but the fact remains that the chief executive’s personal fingerprints are all over a case which has seen doctors’ confidence in the GMC collapse.

“The level of distrust and anger that we are seeing among hospital doctors has prompted begrudging apologies and a review into the laws surrounding such cases. Yet at no point has the chief executive of the GMC taken personal responsibility for his actions. Indeed, we continue to await an acknowledgement that he was incorrect to seek to overturn the considered view of his own medical professional tribunal.

"While there are wider cultural issues about the GMC’s treatment of doctors facing complaints, the gross mishandling of this specific case, including the decision to launch a renewed personal attack on the integrity of Dr Bawa-Garba as part of the GMC’s defence in the Appeal court, appears to be the sole responsibility of Charlie Massey," he added.

“It now seems that the GMC will only be able to draw a line under this disastrous episode via the departure of its main architect,” he concluded.

A spokesperson for the GMC said: “‘We recognise the anger felt by many doctors about this this case. As an independent regulator responsible for protecting patient safety we are frequently called upon to make difficult decisions, and we do not take that responsibility lightly. We have fully accepted the Court of Appeal’s judgement, in what was a complex and unusual case.”

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